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Serena Williams loses in doubles, US advances in Fed Cup

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) The first step in Serena Williams’ comeback underscored how far she has to go after spending over a year away from the game.

In Williams’ first competition since giving birth five months ago, she and sister Venus lost 6-2, 6-3 to Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands in a Fed Cup doubles match Sunday.

“I honestly feel better than I thought I was going to feel,” she said.

The U.S. already had clinched a victory in the best-of-five event thanks to a pair of singles victories by Venus Williams, so this doubles loss merely narrowed the final score to 3-1. The U.S. advanced to a World Group semifinal April 21-22 at France, which defeated Belgium 3-2 this weekend.

The clincher came Sunday when Venus Williams won the final five games in a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Richel Hogenkamp. The U.S. had taken a 2-0 lead Saturday when Venus Williams beat Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-4 and CoCo Vandeweghe rallied from a set and a break down to defeat Hogenkamp 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.

“Obviously this is an important moment, when you’re playing not just for yourself but your other team members and your captain and your country,” Venus Williams said. “It’s definitely a different kind of pressure.”

But this event was most notable for the return of Serena Williams, who hadn’t played competitive tennis since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant for her 23rd career Grand Slam singles title, one off Margaret Court’s record. Her only match since had come in a Dec. 30 exhibition.

Serena Williams’ daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., was wearing a headband with red and white stripes plus a blue coat Sunday as her father, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, held her just behind the players’ bench.

“I didn’t manage my time well, but I was thinking about it in the future how to manage it better,” Serena Williams said. “This is literally my first time traveling with the baby and everything. I’m going to try to do better. It was hard. It was the first time for me.”

Williams had said Friday that this weekend would represent “the start of a long process” as she tries to work her way back. Her pregnancy had complications that made this comeback particularly challenging.

Williams had told Vogue magazine that she developed several small blood clots in her lungs after her daughter was born Sept. 1. The article said that she was unable to get out of bed for the first six weeks after giving birth.

Her doubles match revealed the effects of her long time away from the game. Williams said she hadn’t known what to expect Sunday and acknowledged she needs to improve in all aspects, but she added that “I feel like I’m on the right track.”

“I didn’t expect to have that much power on my serves, even though they didn’t go in,” she said. “It’s just a start. I feel like that’s a very good step in the right direction.”

Netherlands captain Paul Haarhuis said a few more matches should help Williams correct the mistakes she made Sunday.

“I think she’s going to be fine,” Haarhuis said. “She’s got the game, you know.”

Williams’ biggest challenge may be managing expectations as she attempts to work her way back into peak form while balancing tennis and motherhood.

Her goals remain as high as ever.

“I think if I walk out there with low expectations, then I need to stop doing what I do,” she said. “So that’s never going to happen for me. I’m always going to have the best and highest expectations for myself. I’m OK with that because that’s just who I am.”

Sunday’s scheduled singles match between Vandeweghe and Rus was scrapped because the outcome of this event already has been decided.

After Venus Williams’ singles victory Sunday, U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said the Williams sisters would be playing doubles together. The schedule originally called for Serena Williams to play alongside Lauren Davis.

In other Fed Cup action this weekend, the Czech Republic beat Switzerland 3-1 and Germany beat Belarus 3-2. Germany will host the Czech Republic in the other semifinal.

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

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Goffin defeats Granollers at Barcelona Open

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BARCELONA, Spain — David Goffin saved a match point to defeat Marcel Granollers of Spain 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2 Tuesday in the second round of the Barcelona Open.

Goffin was down 5-1 in the second set before recovering to reach the third round for the second consecutive year in Barcelona.

The fourth-seeded Belgian will play either Leonardo Mayer of Argentina or Karen Khachanov of Russia.

Ecuador Open champion Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain defeated Andreas Haider-Maurer of Austria 6-2, 6-4 to set up a second-round encounter with 10-time champion Rafael Nadal.

Sixth-seeded Novak Djokovic will play his second-round match against Slovak Martin Klizan, who defeated Argentine Federico Delbonis 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4.

Tour veteran Feliciano Lopez of Spain defeated Dusan Lajovic of Serbia 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in a second-round match, while Malek Jaziri of Tunisia beat American Ernesto Escobedo 6-4, 6-3.

Keys sends U.S. into second straight Fed Cup final

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AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France — Defending champion United States will play in a second consecutive Fed Cup final after defeating France on Sunday.

Madison Keys secured the decisive point for the visiting team by beating Pauline Parmentier 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the second reverse singles. Keys’ victory gave the defending champions an unassailable 3-1 lead over France in their semifinal.

The 13th-ranked Keys, a late replacement for CoCo Vandeweghe, came back from a 4-1 deficit in the first set and made the decisive break in the ninth game of the second set with two consecutive winners.

“The girls did so well, both today and yesterday. We are very fortunate to have such a strong group and now we are looking forward to what is going to be a great final,” U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said.

Parmentier fought hard until the end and saved two set points in the opener, but ultimately surrendered to Keys’ deep groundstrokes. The Frenchwoman had the chance to break back while trailing 5-4 in the second set but Keys used her big serve to win the next three points and seal the match.

The U.S. will play the Czech Republic in the final.

Earlier, Sloane Stephens had given a 2-1 lead to the U.S. with a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Kristina Mladenovic.

The U.S. Open champion delivered a ruthless display against the 20th-ranked Mladenovic and prevailed in 54 minutes. Stephens hit 16 winners and converted five of six break chances at the 6,700-capacity Arena Pays d’Aix on indoor clay.

“That was a really good one. You never anticipate a scoreline like the way it turned out but it was really solid,” Stephens said. She also won her first singles match on Saturday.

The Americans extended their winning record to 12-2 against the French.

The Czech Republic qualified for the final by defeating Germany 4-1 in Stuttgart.